This week it was reported in the Daily Mirror that one Fine Gael local election hopeful has pledged not to take any unvouched expenses if elected. This would-be Councillor will claim only the basic salary that Councillors get – €16,724 which is called a ‘representational payment’, is subject to tax and has been in place since 2002.
The pledge has been criticised by some existing Fine Gael Councillors and referred to as being ‘infantile’. Such criticism is over the top, in many respect this candidate has done a service by opening up the debate on expenses, in particular the unvouched expenses.
It is worth briefly explaining what a Councillor is entitled to:
On top of the representational payment there are extra allowances for mayors, deputy mayors and chairs of council committees called ‘special policy committees’. These payments are subject to tax. There is also a tax-free allowance to attend council meetings and a tax-free conference budget of between €1,000 and €4,700 a year. A €600 mobile phone allowance is also given.
In 2012 an Irish Independent investigation revealed that Councillors were paid an average of €31,600 each in salary, allowances, expenses and fees for sitting on a range of public bodies. The Independent also referred to the fact that many Councillors are making a full-time living out of what is supposed to be a part-time role. A major trawl of financial records held by almost 200 public bodies revealed very high – but legitimate – pay and expense packages claimed by some Councillors.
The Irish Independent investigation revealed:
- Councillors racked up huge foreign-travel bills, with more than 100 of them visiting 24 countries on five continents over the course of 2011.
- The highest-earning Councillor in the country received seven payments totalling €83,000 from five different bodies – his county council and four outside bodies, to which he was nominated by virtue of being a County Councillor.
- Another €2m was paid to Councillors who attended conferences in Ireland.- At least 15 Councillors also work as assistants and advisers to TDs and ministers, significantly boosting their incomes.
- One Councillor received payments of more than €22,000 from a third-level institution and separate payments totalling €11,000 from a VEC.
- Councils have picked up the tab for masters degrees, website design and office equipment.
The cost of running local authorities is enormous and the costs being claimed by many Councillors is unsustainable. There is no doubt that Councillors work hard and serve their communities however it is also clear that there remains a culture of entitlement and many feel that the expenses they claim are justified.
For those Councillors who see the job as a full-time role it in inevitable that many will serve on as many committees as possible and claim the maximum allowable. This is not good enough and the role of Councillor should not be viewed as a means of making a full-time living. Councils need elected representatives that are a cross section of their communities – Councils need more women, more people who have families, older citizens, PAYE workers, business people and those active in their community.